For all the tedium it captures, Peter Jackson's Get Back brings new light to the Beatles' breakup

click to enlarge The footage in the eight-hour docuseries "Get Back" shows that the Beatles' breakup wasn't an entirely acrimonious affair. - Disney+
The footage in the eight-hour docuseries "Get Back" shows that the Beatles' breakup wasn't an entirely acrimonious affair.
In the historical epic Lawrence of Arabia, Col. T.E. Lawrence dies in a motorcycle accident back in England within the first 90 seconds of the film. The rest of the movie is a flashback on the events that made him famous.

So, the audience knows that whatever ordeal Lawrence undergoes in the Middle East and whatever derring-do he displays during the course of the plot, it won't be the death of him. You might think, at least for those unfamiliar with Lawrence's biography, that this would detract from the drama, but counterintuitively, the opposite occurs.

Because we know what he cannot know, we intimately appreciate the risks he persistently runs and the grit he exudes in the face of, what is for him, uncertainty. 

That the Beatles performed atop the roof of Apple Studios on January 30, 1969 is common knowledge among music fans. Crowds gathered on the street below, traffic stopped and cameras kept rolling while bobbies shut down "the ridiculousness." But in the hectic month leading up to that impromptu concert, none of the band members knew it would come off, nor could they have known it would be the final occasion they played together live.

Rock 'n' roll isn't revolutionary warfare, but the process can take as long. Director Peter Jackson and his innovative team took four years to remaster and edit the 150 hours of audio and 60 hours of footage recorded in the 22 fateful days leading up to that rooftop performance. The resulting docuseries Get Back pushes eight hours in length.

Although a must-watch for Beatles completists, the three-part archival work, available now on Disney+, may not rivet the attention of casual fans. Even so, tiny gems abound, from the band's Swinging London getups to the reverence they pay to “our gracious King” Elvis Presley on his birthday.

The breadth of appreciation that one of rock's greatest bands shows to other people's music is also impressive. In passing, George Harrison strums the Bob Dylan deep cut "Mama, You Been On My Mind" and the group has little trouble instantly hammering through classics like Little Richard's "Miss Ann," Eddie Cochran’s "Twenty Flight Rock," Gary U.S. Bonds' "New Orleans," Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers” and Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So.” It's clear that a piece of Paul McCartney’s soul never left Tin Pan Alley, while a piece of Harrison's never left India.

Get Back casts no doubt on which side the Beatles' politics were buttered. Before Paul finds the characters Sweet Loretta Martin and Jo Jo from Tucson, Arizona to include in the song "Get Back", he starts with Sidi Abdul Rami from Pakistan and Alberto Marin from Puerto Rico — a direct rebuke to immigrant-bashers such as Enoch Powell. "Worried people said, 'We don't need Pakistanis. Boy, you better travel home,'" an early version of the lyrics go. "Get back, get back to where you once belonged." Very punk.

Those plaintive detectives whose "Who Killed The Beatles?" case file remains open will find several new clues to mull over in Get Back. But the mood depicted onscreen is far less acrimonious than one had cause to expect from previous accounts. At one point, Paul even quips, "It's going to be an incredible sort of comical thing, like, in 50 years' time: 'They broke up 'cause Yoko sat on an amp.'"

The actual fractures in the Beatles had more to do with the sidelining of George and his own blossoming songwriting. Listening to the earliest versions of "All Things Must Pass," "I Me Mine," "For You Blue" and "Old Brown Shoe" are highlights in the docuseries.

Overwhelmingly, what viewers experience in Jackson's new trilogy is the tedium and delirium of making music. The band plays each tune dozens of times in various states of seriousness and tiredness. When they finally blast their well-rehearsed numbers at the city of London, a red-letter day in the history of rock, the songs have lost much of their snap.

Don't feel too bad if you need a break from the Beatles by the end. So did they.

Watch the official trailer below:

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